The Parent Classroom Newsletter > THIS YEAR I'M GOING TO BE A BETTER PARENT

Jan 25, 2011

One of the best things about a new year is that it is an opportunity to forge a new beginning. Usually we think about this as January 1 rolls in, and then begin to lose the momentum as the reality of the long, dark winter days takes hold. You all know the scene. My gym was filled to overflowing at 6 am the first week in January, and already it's back to the usual group of regulars.

There is a reason for this. Change is a process. We can’t just will it to happen. Instead we have to move through various steps which build upon each other as we seek to change something for the better. One of the theories to explain how people change is the “Stages of Change” model which was introduced in the late 1970’s by James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente. This model is very helpful in understanding that change occurs gradually, that it can start with denial and resistance, that it embraces relapse, and eventually becomes a commitment.

During January, I typically encounter many parents seeking to change their behavior with their children. They vow to be calmer, more consistent, more attentive and more effective. Read through the following steps in the Stages of Change model. Look for where you might be located in the process of making the parenting changes that you desire.


1) Precomtemplation Stage:

This earliest stage is characterized by a state of denial. People do not understand they have control over their behavior, or they don't see their own behavior as a problem. They might be unaware that their behavior is damaging to them or to their children. My guess is that if you are receiving this parent newsletter you have passed through this stage. You are cognizant of your own behavior as a parent and are seeking to better it.

2) Contemplation Stage:

During this second stage, people are more and more aware of the benefits of making a change, but it seems too difficult and beyond one’s ability to make it happen. “I know that I scream at my children, but when I am stressed and their stressing me out, I can’t help it.” There is a conflict here between knowing that change is needed and feeling defeated in the face of accomplishing it. It just feels too hard, like you're giving something up, rather than gaining. People can often stay in the contemplation stage for a very long time. If you are here, ask yourself: what are the consequences if I don’t change my behavior with my children? What is preventing me from making a change? What would be the return on my investment if I did make the change?

3) Preparation Stage:

In this third stage, people find themselves taking some small behavioral steps that affirm to themselves that they are now ready to do something different. They start to see themselves as truly ready for change. This is the time when I begin to get inquiries for parent consultations or about participation in a parent workshop series. This state of readiness can take the form of seeking help from outside resources, or reading a parenting book, or making a list of goals. When in this stage of preparation, it helps to gather as much information as you can about all the ways you can change your behavior.

4). Action Stage:

During this fourth stage, people begin taking direct action in order to achieve their goals. This is different from waking up on January 1 and resolving to never yell at your kids. By the time you reach this action stage you have progressed through the above steps, given the problem time and thought, and are ready to go. At this stage you need lots of reinforcement and support from your spouse, a friend, a parent group, a therapist, whatever helps to keep you on track. This support helps you renew your commitment and keeps you focused on the prize.

5). Maintenance Stage:

When you reach the fifth stage in this model, you are on your way. You are, by and large, successfully avoiding old habits and have found new ways of responding to your children. Even when you do lapse, which you will, you are able to recover, remind yourself that this is just a setback, and get back on track. You become more assured that this new change is yours to keep, even though it may land you in the final stage:

6) Relapse Stage:

The beauty of this model is that it plans for and embraces relapse. Relapse is inevitable whenever you are making a change. Youl will lose it with your kids, you will be impatient or inattentive. The key is to not let these setbacks undermine your progress by giving up or beating yourself up. Instead, it is important to learn and to understand. What were the triggers? What can you do to avoid them in the future? Would you be willing to forgive yourself and recommit?


I hope that the awareness of these six stages will contribute to your understanding -- as it has to mine -- of the dynamics of the change process.

When you reach a solid understanding that change cannot be willed -- that, on the contrary, it requires a lot of thought, preparation and focus on specific action steps -- then you will have a much better chance of starting a new behavior and learning to maintain it.

Jill Shugart, M.A., MFT - 910 Tulare Ave., Berkeley, CA 94707 - 510-528-0309 -
Ca. Lic.#MFT32528



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